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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 19, 2014
“Our Good Father”
Have you ever watched a little boy with his father? He tries to be just like dad. That is of course where the phrase, “Like father, like son” comes from. I imagine it is similar for daughters and mothers, and since there is a phrase, “she is her father’s daughter,” I am sure there is a corollary regarding daughters and fathers. I saw this bent to imitate in my own sons as they grew up. For the most part, that was good. It certainly was cute when they were small and would put on my boots with their tops coming nearly to their knee caps and they would clop around the house. Sometimes it was to my embarrassment when one of them would imitate some bad habit of manners or speech I have. Diane had to work overtime to correct us.
My sons are now all grown men. Each has his own individual interests and traits, but each of them still reflect their dad in many respects. First, there are physical traits. Each is a unique individual, but it is not hard to tell that each of them is a son of mine. Each has a distinct voice, yet all three also have common speech characteristics trained into them by hearing dad all these years. There are also character traits. Each one is unique in their particular strengths and weaknesses, but there are also common characteristics that Diane and I trained into them as part of their identity of being a Harris. They carry my name and so it has been required of them to value certain things and behave in certain ways in respect of the heritage they have received from me and that traces back through their ancestors. For example, though by blood they are three quarters Yankees and none were born or raised in the South, that one quarter of Southern heritage is the Harris side, and so they have been trained to have a deep respect for southern culture, values and their confederate ancestors.
It is proper for a son to grow up and want to be like his father. Ideally, the son will emulate his father’s good points and diminish the influence of his father’s weak points. That has been my desire for all three of my sons. I want them to be better men than I have been. But as the child matures into manhood, there can be problems along the way. The child can start to think he is wiser than dad and then reject his training to do things his own way. This is a problem that has been aggravated in our society by school systems that encourage their students to reject parental training in favor of what the school system is teaching. This adds to teen rebellion against parental authority and guidance resulting in family disintegration. Another related problem that has become common in our society is identity confusion for the teen. Instead of being grounded in family identity with a focus on preparing for adult responsibilities, the teen and kidults (those in their twenties who have not yet grown up) are busy trying to “find themselves.” The good kids will still obey dad’s commands. They will listen carefully and try not to violate what he says, but they no longer have a goal of trying to imitate dad. They do what is necessary, but no longer pay him much attention beyond that. Those who are rebellious reject parental guidance to go their own way.
In many ways these three responses are a picture of the nature of true righteousness, self righteousness and unrighteousness. The unrighteous reject God’s commands to pursue their own foolishness. The self righteous analyze the commands of the Father in order to fulfill obligations and often will take great pride that they are doing so. They usually think of themselves as good sons, however, they are missing the heart that desires to know and be like the father. The truly righteous identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ because they want to be like Him in both action and attitude. Because of that, the truly righteous have a humility that recognizes their own weaknesses and rely on the Father to help. It is like when my children were young and wanted to help me carry something heavy. I was the one that provided all the strength needed to carry the object, but they would grasp hold simply to be involved. The truly righteous want to be involved in what God is doing. They know that God is the one providing the strength and doing the real work, but they grab hold wanting to be part of His work. They rely on God’s strength to accomplish the task. The self righteous redefines the task until the bucket is small enough for them to carry on their own. A form of godliness, but no power.
The Sermon on the Mount strips away the pretense of the self righteous and brings the standard back to the level of human impossibility. To live as a child of God, you must be a child of God. It is humanly impossible for anyone to live in his own power the kind of life Jesus describes throughout this sermon. It is impossible for a human on his own to have the characteristics of the Beatitudes, to live according to the teachings of Jesus in chapter 5, to follow the practices Jesus describes in chapter 6, and to comply with the commands He has given in these last several sections of the sermon. No one has within himself enough wisdom, strength or will power to live in true righteousness. You must live it according to God’s wisdom, in His strength in simple obedience to Him, or you will only live in what Paul described as a “form of godliness that denies God’s power.” A corrupted religion of self righteousness.
The verses preceding our passage of study for this morning bring out this fact once again. How can we possibly keep from falling into the pattern of the Scribes and Pharisees of self righteously condemning others because they fail to live up to our standards, and yet at the same time have the discernment to tell the difference between those who are dogs and swine and those who are not? That takes both humility and insight that is unnatural to man. Left to ourselves, we quickly set up our own standards for right and wrong and then judge others against that standard. If someone does not do as well as we do, we look down on them. We see them as less righteous than ourselves. And if left to ourselves, our pride will lead us into giving what is precious and holy to dogs and hogs. We think of ourselves able to win others to our way of thinking by winning philosophical arguments or triumphing in Bible battles. The truth is that we must judge ourselves and others only according to what the Word of God says, according to its standards of righteousness which we cannot possible meet on own. And we must remember that people come to God through the Holy Spirit’s work, not through our ability to persuade (see 1 Cor. 1 & 2). (See: Judging Righteously & Our Holy Treasure)
This is the reason for our passage today. God knows our weaknesses and desires to help us overcome those weaknesses. He tells us what He wants us to do, what He will do and then summarizes how to balance 7:1-5 with 7:6 of not judging while being discerning.
Ask, Seek and Knock – Matthew 7:7-8
Matthew 7:7-12. “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
As with so many other passages of Scripture, this passage is often taken out of its context with the result that its meaning is twisted. There are those that look at verses 7 & 8 and say that God is promising to give us anything we desire as long as we ask Him for it. Some even twist Psalm 37:4 to back that up, “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” They say, “See, anything you desire, God will give you. Just make sure you say, ‘In Jesus name’ at the end of your prayer because in John 14:14 Jesus says, ‘If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.’ So ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.”
This sort of theology was at one time on the fringes of orthodox Christianity, but sadly, it is now not only within what was orthodox Christianity but is now mainstream and has made many inroads into fundamental Christianity. Again, the reason is because too many people approach the Bible without regard for the context of the passage they are examining. I know I talk about context a lot, but I cannot over emphasize its importance in a day and age when false doctrine abounds and leads many astray. We must be careful to make sure that we are true to the Scriptures and not twist them to our own meanings. We are to conform to the Bible, not conform the Bible into what we want it to be.
For example, if you go on in the Psalm 37 passage, you find what the writer is talking about. “Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass, and fade like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday.”
The Psalm goes on to describe the insecurity of the wicked and the security of the righteous. It is not talking about God giving you whatever you want, but as you delight in the Lord your desires change and you want righteousness. The Lord will give that to you and you will be secure in the Lord because you trust Him.
In John 14 we do not find that asking something in Jesus name means tacking on a phrase at the end of the prayer like an incantation – abracadabra, etc. It means to ask in accordance with His name, which can only be what would bring glory to the Father (vs 13). The whole passage is dealing with Jesus disclosing His oneness with the Father, not with giving us unlimited wishes.
In the case of the passage before us this morning we find it in the midst of a whole section that is dealing with judgment. Matthew 7:1-5 deals with the manner in which we judge others when they fall into sin. Matthew 7:6 deals with the fact that we are to judge some people to be dogs and hogs. Matthew 7:13-14 deals with the fact that people will be judged according to which path they took and which gate they entered. Matthew 7:15-23 deals with the judgment that false prophets will receive. Matthew 7:24-27 deals with the results that will occur depending on what foundation you have built your house – your life – upon. The context surrounding “asking, seeking and knocking” is judgment, not gaining for yourself whatever you desire.
In the context we find that our Lord is telling us the provision that He is making for us as we try to live according to the righteousness that He has described. We are left in quite a bit of tension about how to carry out Jesus’ commands in verse 1-5 and verse 6. On one hand, you are not to judge others with self righteous condemnation with the stern warning that you will be judged in the manner that you judge others. Yet, at the same time, You are to treasure the precious, holy message of the gospel that has been entrusted to you and not give it to dogs and swine. That demands that you make judgments. How can you live in the tension between the two and carry out the commands? There is only one way. You must be righteous from the heart.
You can carry out these commands only if you already posses the character qualities of the beatitudes. You must have the humility that comes with being poor in spirit and be mournful over sin while also being merciful. These will keep you from condemning others out of self righteousness. Meekness, which is relying on and following only God, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness will increase your desire and ability to bring yourself and others into greater conformity to Christ. When you remove the log from your own eyes and then in humility help your brothers and sisters, you can remove the specks in their eyes. When you are pure in heart, you can see clearly the wicked nature of other people who reject what God has done for them. You are called to be salt and light and not be afraid to speak to others even if they persecute you, but in doing so you must value the holy nature of our message and treat it with respect. You are striving to live a life that reflects true righteousness from the heart.
We are to ask, seek and knock. It is the same idea described in James 1:5. After telling us to consider it all joy when we enter into various trials because God will use those trials to make us mature believers, James says, “But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In other words, if you do not understand how to be joyful in your present trial, ask God for the wisdom to do so and He will give it. If you want to live in the righteousness described by Jesus throughout the Sermon on the Mount, then you keep asking, seeking and knocking and God will give it to you.
Many have made much about each of these particular elements – ask, seek, knock. Commentators have made gradations of them both ways with some saying that you knock first and get in the door, then seek out the Father, then once you find Him you ask of Him. Others go the opposite way saying to ask first, then you seek and finally you knock and the door is opened. Still others make them into different applications. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that each of these elements all stress the same point which is importunity in prayer. God wants us to continue in perseverance in prayer. The seeking and knocking are pictures of asking. All of them together stress the point of actively petitioning God very strongly. It is not something we gain on our own or that comes automatically.
Let me also point out that the asking, seeking and knocking is continual. Our English translations do not bring out the idea clearly. You might even get the sense that you ask once and then receive. You go out to seek once and then you find. You knock once and the door is immediately opened. However, all three of the verbs are present tense and they would be better translated, “keep asking, and it shall be given to you; keep seeking, and you shall find; keep knocking, and it shall be opened to you.” If you want to live a righteous life, then you must actively pursue it by pursuing after God. You do not become righteous by being passive. Keep in mind as well that what you are asking, seeking and knocking for is not some object, but the character qualities of true righteousness in your life. An object could be given and that would be the end of it, but character qualities are developed over time as different aspects of your life are molded.
God wants you to be asking, seeking and knocking. The answer to your quest is made secure in Jesus’ statement in verse 8, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.” If you fulfill your part, God will fulfill His part and respond. How will He respond? Jesus uses two illustrations to bring emphasis to the answer in verse 11.
Two Illustrations – Matthew 7:9-10
The first illustration in verse 9 is bread, “Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?” The word “loaf” here is simply the word for bread. The rhetorical question demands a “no” answer. Would any dad there give his son a stone for food instead of bread? Of course not! They all understood this very clearly. A stone may have looked like bread, but none of them would play an unkind joke like that to their child.
The second illustration in verse 10 regarding fish is similar, “Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?” Other than both having scales, a fish and a snake are so different from each other that the illustration seems ridiculous. However, it is probable that the idea here is not of giving a live snake, which could be dangerous to the dad as well as the son, but that he would substitute cooked snake meat which was unclean (Leviticus 11:12), for cooked fish. The meat of both look similar, but it would be a cruel trick that none of them would do to any of their children.
Our Good Father – Matthew 7:11
Both illustrations show that even evil men are good to their children. God is even better as seen in vs. 11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” The disciples are specifically mentioned as part of the crowds to whom Jesus is preaching here and so they are included in Jesus’ general declaration that they are evil. That is the nature of man.
There are many today that say man is basically good, but society corrupts him. They claim that if man were in the right environment, then that natural goodness would come out. This is the philosophical basis for much of what sociologists have pushed upon our nation. Corporal punishment has been eliminated from most of our schools. Prisons have become “correctional facilities” with the goal being to “rehabilitate” the inmate. Many crimes have been reclassified as psychological diseases. They theorize that man is naturally good so if he does something wrong it must be some outside influence that made him behave that way. Psychologists can then reclassify such things in such ways as to make them acceptable to society. That has been done with homosexuality. In three decades homosexual behavior has gone from being listed in the United States as a serious psychological disorder into something tolerated, then accepted, and now forced upon society as an equal equivalent in homosexual marriage.
Whatever effort man makes in trying to remove evil by redefining it, God is the judge and only He can declare what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. God’s declaration is that man is sinful by nature. David declared in Psalm 14:3, “there is no one who does good.” Isaiah 53:6 states that “we all like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way,” and Isaiah 64:6 that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” before God. The Lord said in Jeremiah 17:9 that the human heart is “more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick.” Paul said that “all have sinned” and that “you were dead in your trespasses and sin” and were “by nature children of wrath” (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-3); Speaking of children, Proverbs 22:15 tells us that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Our sinful nature is exhibited from day one. Jesus states it plainly here in Matthew 7:11, “you, being evil.” The true nature of man is sinful, not good, and God will hold him responsible for his evil even if society does not.
Now if evil men know how to give good gifts to the children because they ask, how much more so will our Heavenly Father give good to those who ask Him. The goodness of God is emphasized by the comparison with evil men. If evil men will give good things to their children, how much more will a good God give to His children. James 1:17 states that “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” Every good thing we have ever received has come from God whether we have acknowledged that truth or not. We are to come to God and ask of Him and can know that He will give us what is good.
God is not necessarily going to give us what we want, but He will give us what is good, and we should praise Him for that, for much of what we want would not be good for us if we got it. For example, what would it be like to suddenly receive a million dollars? Sure, most of us would like that problem and probably have even dreamed about what we would do with it if God gave a large amount of money to us. You may have even thought of rational reasons God should give you a lot of money such as you would give a large portion of it to the Lord’s work (as if He needed the money). Frankly, most of us could not handle a million dollars. The stories of what happened to people after winning the lottery are cases in point. There are tragic stories after tragic stories about these people. Many lose the money quickly to bad investments promoted by schemers. Some quit their jobs and spend their winnings foolishly and end up with debt that puts them in a worse financial position than before. Many others have had relationships shattered because of their own greed or that of friends and relatives. Families have broken apart over what to do with the new wealth. God knows what we can and cannot handle. He will give us what is good for us, not what we want, and what is good for is what will make us more like Christ.
God wants us to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), so you can be confident that if you diligently ask that of Him because you hunger and thirst after righteousness, He will answer and you will be changed and filled. From Hebrews 11:6 and Jeremiah 29:13 we know that those who seek after God will find Him for He will reward them with knowledge and a relationship with Himself. And as I already pointed out from James 1:5, if you knock seeking wisdom to understand how to rejoice in the midst of your faith being tested, He will grant it. Ask, seek and knock, and God will enable you to discern how to live righteously including being able to balance discerning who are dogs and hogs while not making condemning judgements of others. We can recognize the false prophets around us and stay on the narrow path that leads to life.
The Golden Rule – Matthew 7:12
This section ends with what is often called the Golden Rule, “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this it the Law and the Prophets.” Again this is not some isolated statement. Notice that it begins with the word, “Therefore.” That connects it to what Jesus has already said. The reason for the statement is that it gives in one practical sentence the basic principle of living in practical righteousness which is the general context of the sermon, and in specific of how to judge without being condemning. It is the basic rule for how to love your neighbors, the second of the great commandments. Notice that this saying is not the “whole” law and the prophets because it does not deal with love for God (See Matthew 22:40), but it does adequately cover man’s dealing with one another.
Philosophers like to point out that similar saying appear in other religions, but those other sayings are all from the negative standpoint, Jesus states it from the positive side. For example, the ancient Rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to yourself do not to someone else.” It says in the book of Tobit, “What thou hatest, to no man do.” Confucius taught, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “What you avoid suffering yourself, do not afflict on others.” The Stoics advocated the principle, “What you do not want to be done to you, do not do to anyone else.” All these statements are passive and from the negative standpoint to not do something bad to others so that you can avoid having that same bad thing done to you. Those are all statements that self-righteous people can live well under. Jesus’ statement is active and from the positive standpoint. Treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself. This is a position of love. Do good for others the same way you would like them to do good for you. It is a principle for righteous living. God’s standard is one of actively pursuing righteousness, not just avoiding evil. It is the very example of Jesus.
In a few moments we will be celebrating the Lord’s Table. Consider what God has done for us. We were dead in our sins facing the impossibility of meeting God’s standards by our own merit so that we were without hope. Yet God loved us so much that the second part of the triune God Head became a man, lived a sinless life and then died in our place on the cross as the payment for the penalty of our sins. He rose from the dead on the third day giving us the hope of eternal life with Him. Because of that, hope had been given to us that we are made righteous before God, justified, by simple faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus offers salvation from sin. This is both present and future. In the present it means the regeneration of the human heart by the Holy Spirit to make you alive to righteousness. You become a different person from what you were. It also means that the final penalty of sin, eternity in Hell, is replaced with the promise of eternity in heaven with the Savior.
Our text this morning is reflective of God’s redeeming grace. You are to ask, seek and knock, but it is God that answers and grants your request because of, and only because of His goodness. He changes you and enables you to live by a new rule, a positive rule based in love, to treat others with good, just as God has treated you.
Sermon Notes: Our Good Father
It is normal and proper for children to want to ______________ their parents
Problems arise when a child thinks he is __________than his parents or gains his identity outside the family
The righteous identify with _____________and strive to be like Him in both behavior and attitude
To live as a child of God you ______________ a child of God
To be discerning without being judgmental requires _______________ and insight not natural to man
God knows our weaknesses and will help us ______________those weaknesses as we ask, seek and knock
Ask, Seek and Knock – Matthew 7:7-8
This passage is often interpreted incorrectly because it is interpreted out of _______________
Without context, even professing Christians can ____________ Scripture into heresy
Psalm 37 – the context sets the ___________- those who trust, obey and delight in the are given their desires
John 14:14 – asking in Jesus’ name is not an __________________, but asking according to His will
The context of Matthew 7 is _______________ and discernment
God provides wisdom and discernment for us to live in practical ______________as we ask, seek and knock
James 1:5 – God gives us ________________to live in righteousness – how to be joyful in the midst of trials
Asking, seeking and knocking all stress the same point of ___________________ in prayer
Asking, seeking and knocking are present ____________ tense – you keep doing these things
Two Illustrations – Matthew 7:9-10
Verse 9 – Bread: A ____________ may look like bread, but a man would not switch them to give to his son
Verse 10 – Fish: the meat may look similar, but a man would not switch fish for _________to give to his son
Our Good Father – Matthew 7:11
Men are by __________ by nature
Philosophical foolishness has resulted in efforts by society to redefine or excuse ____________
Only __________ can declare what is good and what is evil – and He declares man is sinful
Psalm 14:3; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-3; Proverbs 22:15, Matthew 7:11
The ______________ of God is emphasized by the comparison with evil men
God gives what we __________, not what we want – getting what we want could be very bad for us
God want you to be ____(1 Peter 1:16) – you can be confident if you ask He will help you become righteous
Hebrews 11:6; Jeremiah 29:13 – ____and He will reward you with knowledge and relationship with Himself
James 1:5 – _______________ seeking wisdom to live righteously and God will grant it
The Golden Rule – Matthew 7:12
The “______________” points back to what Jesus has just taught
This is the basic rule of how to __________ your neighbor
Other cultures have similar sayings, but they are all from the ______________position – don’t do this
Jesus’ statement is active and from the ______________position – do this
The text reflects God’s redeeming grace – ask, seek and knock and God answers because He is ___________
Parents, you are responsible to apply the lessons your children learn in church to their lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the reference verses mentioned in the sermon. You can look them up later. 2) Count how many times the words “ask, seek, knock” are used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about how to pursue God’s will in your life and how you see God being good to you.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Do you think teens try to emulate their fathers as they did 30 years ago? Why might that be? What is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount? How does this passage fit within that theme? Psalm 37:4 is often misinterpreted. How does its context help you interpret it correctly? Is asking something “in Jesus’ name” (John 14) an incantation? Does ending a prayer with that phrase obligate God? Why do some people take it that way? What does praying “in Jesus name ” mean? How does James 1:5 help you understand the meaning of Matthew 7:7 & 8? What is it that we should be trying to gain when we “ask, seek and knock”? Are we to “ask, seek and knock” once or continually? Explain. What do the illustrations of verse 9 & 10 demonstrate about God? Is man basically good or evil? Why? Would it be good for you to get everything you wanted? Why or why not? What does God give you? What is the difference between the “Golden Rule” (vs. 12) and similar statements from other cultures? Why is the “Golden Rule” difficult to carry out? What can you do to better obey its precept? Ask someone to help you in that area.
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